The Click Is Dead

Posted by Taylor Haney on Tue, Jun 10, 2014

A great contribution to our blog from Dailybreak Media. Nancy Liberman, Chief Marketing Officer at Dailybreak Media discusses the idea that it's not the clicks that should be measured but the time a customer spends interacting with brands and campaigns. Interested in guest blogging? E-mail taylor [at] mitx [dot] org.

Nancy LibermanNancy Liberman is chief marketing officer for Dailybreak Media. She has extensive experience in branding, corporate identity and awareness initiatives, marketing communications, demand generation and sales support efforts, and budget management. Follow Dailybreak Media on Twitter @DailybreakMedia, or follow Nancy @nancy02129.

"Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, good writing can be good selling." Those are the words of William Bernbach, a pioneer in the formative years of advertising agencies and a founder of the agency responsible for the memorable Volkswagen campaigns of the 1960s.

The beauty of those ads lay in the simplicity of the design and the effectiveness of the message. Although the measurement of choice did not include click-throughs, impressions still mattered – and Bernbach used striking visuals and memorable content to encourage consumers to dive deeper into the brand. Engaging content ensured that perceptions matured positively, a measurement that still matters today. And had Bernbach’s Beetle not encouraged consumers to read past the headline, it would have been as meaningless as today’s click-through rate.

Finding the Meaning in Zero

Advertising metrics are not what they used to be. Once upon a time, print and broadcast media offered necessary metrics like paid readership and ratings, supported by BPA audits and Nielsen reports and supplemented with specialized market research – all driven by the media properties themselves to help sell ads. Advertisers used the information, along with sales leads and whatever market research they conducted separately, to measure their advertising effectiveness.

Then along came the Internet, with its new-media ad units measured primarily by clicks and page views. It has taken nearly twenty years for us to realize the reliability of these measures is basically zero, as painstakingly documented in a recent TIME magazine article (What You Know About the Web is Wrong, March 9, 2014).

Click-throughs and page views don’t tell us anything at all about consumer engagement, and therein lies the conundrum. According to research conducted by Chartbeat, a data analytics company, most people don’t read the pages they click on; the reported noted that “…a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page,” and the topics generating most clicks received the least attention per page-view. That’s a real kick in the teeth to advertisers basing media buys on clicks.

Native advertising performance tends to be dismal in its current/most popular forms. There are several reasons for this, including credibility issues with content inadequately identified as advertising, poor understanding of web heuristics driving lousy placement decisions, and again, over-reliance on strict numeric metrics as reach and clicks to indicate audience engagement. It's why great creative is a starting point, but engaging, educating and rewarding content that holds that attention and leaves the consumer feeling fulfilled versus the feeling of being burned in a shell game, is what keeps them coming back for more.

It’s the Message, Not the Messenger, That Matters Most

As VW lured readers into their ads with the unexpected, a witty juxtaposition of copy and design, online/native advertising can only work if we get the user to the page we want them to see – so great creative is more relevant to the process than ever. The trick is to eschew anything remotely resembling trickery. Native ads masquerading as editorial just make consumers mad. The best native content is transparently identified, and offers an up-front, honest reason for opting in to view the content.

We know that consumers’ attention spans are shortening by the minute. Holding their attention for long enough to make an impression is harder than ever, but it’s the Holy Grail. How do agencies and brands make this happen? They must find content that fits the consumer’s purpose in navigating to the page in the first place, that meets a need or entertains them, and that gives them something to do while on the page.

The solution and saving grace for both industries is that fantastic, original, interesting, useful content will win the day. So agencies and advertisers can refocus their efforts on generating that compelling, engaging content and on measuring time spent interacting with their brands and campaigns on the page, instead of on the simple clicks that brought them there.

Otherwise, the campaign could be a lemon.